Friday, January 15, 2016

Movie Review: Night Watch (2004)

Night Watch (2004) co-written and directed by Timur Bekmambetov

In modern-day Moscow, Anton goes to an old crone with magical powers to get his girlfriend back. She agrees to help him but tells him his girlfriend is pregnant with the other guy's baby. She can make the woman come back to him but that requires killing the baby. Anton needs to take the moral responsibility on himself--he has to choose deliberately to commit this sin. He skeptically agrees and she begins concocting a potion. He drinks it and then she has to clap her hands to kill the baby. At the last minute, he changes his mind. Before he can stop her, she seems to be possessed. Something is preventing her from clapping. As the potion disorients Anton, he can see some other people in the apartment manhandling the witch. They subdue her and then start filling out paperwork on her illegal use of magic. Anton asks them what is going on. They realize he can see them and that he is an Other.

The Others are a special minority of the population that have mystical abilities. Some are vampires, others shapeshifters, still others clairvoyants. These Others have existed for centuries and the good Light Others have been at war with the evil Dark Others. In medieval times, the two sides had a large but indecisive battle. The two leaders (Geser for the Light and Zavulon for the Dark) make a truce where they will regulate each others' action, especially when dealing with regular mortals. The Light Others form the Night Watch to keep an eye on the activities of the Dark Others. The Day Watch is made of Dark Others who police the activities of the Light Others. The truce has been a precarious balance that risks falling into a world-ending conflict.

Anton decides to be a Light Other and joins the Night Watch (Others always have a choice to be good or evil and must explicitly choose which side they will be on). He becomes a field agent but is not very good. His current assignment is to follow a young boy who is being lured by Dark vampires. As he goes along, he spots a young women who has a special curse that may trigger the world-ending conflict. Geser wants to maintain the status quo but Zavulon schemes to get the boy and maybe end the world.

The movie is a Russian production with a highly-stylized, slick, dystopian look (or maybe it's just post-Soviet grunge). The visuals are inventive. Even the subtitles are crafted to enhance the storytelling. When the Dark vampires call the boy, the hypnotic voice has red subtitles that wash in and out like red mist or blood in water. The movie is impressive just for watching.

The story is also well told. The Night Watch, even though they are the side of light and good, have questionable methods and plenty of flaws. Anton is a mess and slowly gets his act together through the film, though not enough for a very happy ending. Doing the right thing is never easy and making up for past mistakes is a greater challenge than any characters can anticipate. The movie has some nice ethical complexity to go along with the production values.

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